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The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe

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The Woman in the Dunes by Kobo Abe

A life lived - mundane, grinding, remorseless
By Harry on December 26, Protected content

(Above and below taken from the Amazon reviewer, 'Harry')

This book can be read at so many levels - existentialism of course, after all `what is the use of individuality when one is on the point of death?' And what is life in a sand hole - `terrifyingly repetitive. One could not do without repetition in life, like the beating of the heart, but it was also true that the beating of the heart was not all there was to life.' Or perhaps read it is an allegory for post-war Japan, a Japan consumed by work, where people lived in their boardinghouse holes, craving freedom, but overwhelmed by the remorseless sands of capitalism and consumerism. Or maybe as a tale of soul-destroying horror, resignation and love. Form your own view, there are many facets to this story.

And in producing the story, Kobo Abe proves to be a fine prose-meister- the dunes are a place of horror, a place where the woman `existed only for the purpose of clearing away the sand,' but they are also a place `where sunlight lay scattered in needlepoints of light ... [where] a milky mist billowed and swirled above the cliff, spaces of shadow, speckled with the remains of night ... spaces flowing with particles of shining vapour ... the combination of shadows was filled with fantasies ... every moment overflowed with new discoveries, everything was there, actual shapes confounded with fantastic forms never seen before.' And life in the hole in the sand can be felt and tasted, the grinding all pervading grit, the strange parched world of burning heat, swathed in sea mist at night and rising, rotting damp. A sorrowful place, a place where `they might as well lick each other's wounds. But they would lick forever, and the wounds would never heal, and in the end their tongues would be worn away.'

Amongst the prose, Abe provides a description of entomologists bound to draw their ire (or perhaps a direct and accurate hit) - extremely reclusive, kleptomaniac, homosexual, with suicide the next step. Our entomological protagonist, Niki Jumpei, managed to break free of Abe's stereotype - homosexual he was not, sexual fantasies were more his thing (and Freud would have had a field day with his fantasies and hallucinations); and nor was he suicidal, showing a grim determination to hang on to life in his hell-hole in the dunes. Maybe he broke the mould through his broader interest - the sand which was `ceaselessly moving and inhospitable to all living things.'

All up a fascinating book that will, in due course, warrant further reading and delving into those dark places explored by Kobo Abe.